[UTA Magazine]


Education: A lifelong pursuit
Octogenarian says learning keeps her young

Jan Davis

Doctoral student Jan Davis

The way history and Russian Professor Dennis Reinhartz sees it, the one thing all older students have in common is—nothing.

"You just can't generalize about this group or any group," he said. "They have varying attitudes and come to school for various reasons. They're very, very diverse. Some just like coming to school and being intellectually challenged. They want to stay mentally alert."

History doctoral student Jan Davis numbers among those seeking intellectual challenge. She earned her bachelor's degree in violin and mathematics in the 1950s. Then, after a career in systems analysis and technical writing, she returned to school in the 1990s along with her youngest daughter. The pair received their master's degrees the same day, Davis in history, and her daughter in art and art history.

Davis, who characterizes the study of history as a kind of "modified gossip," is particularly interested in English history. For her master's thesis, she explored several episodes of conflict between church and state in England, beginning with Henry II and his ongoing dispute with Thomas Becket.

"You get into some of the ideas as to why things happen," she said. "There were a lot of rumors to sift through."

Davis returned to school because she wanted to continue learning.

"I think education is a really important thing," she said. "It teaches you to think on your own. I had a little time, since all my kids were grown and I just wanted to go back to school. I like to learn. I think it keeps you young."

Dr. Reinhartz has a bit of experience with young-thinking older students. After earning a Ph.D. at age 25, he started his teaching career in the night school at Rutgers University, where almost all of the students were older.

"I learned really early how to deal with older students," he said. "They're just as diverse and individual as everyone else. You can't generalize about people.

"Of course, one thing the other students sometimes don't realize is that our older students have lives outside school. They have jobs and families—real-world concerns."

They also have a world of experience to share with classmates. One of Dr. Reinhartz's older students spends every summer traveling the world, often participating in archeological digs. Such students bring the added depth and breadth of their experience to classroom discussions.

Davis' research for her doctoral degree in transatlantic history has immersed her in the 16th-century world of an early mapmaker, Gerard Mercator, and the founder of modern anatomy, Andreas Vesalius.

"I want to know why things happened and how these people interacted," she said. "It's interesting to look at their lives. There's so much to learn. If I have to go, I'd love to die in a library."


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